Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 November 2016
Plant communities and ecosystem processes in seres at multiple altitudes in the tropical montane forest zone of northern Borneo were studied to understand the patterns and mechanisms of the secondary succession after shifting cultivation. A total of 25 stands (and additional three stands) were sampled with stand ages ranging from 2 to 55 y after slash and burn at altitudes between 900 and 1400 m asl. Plant species composition, above-ground biomass (AGB), chemical properties of soils, litter and foliar samples were investigated in each stand. A TWINSPAN analysis classified five plant communities primarily as a sere but with two altitudinal communities in the later successional phase. AGB accumulated steadily at the rate of 2.42 Mg ha−1 y−1 during the succession for the first 55 y due to the ontogenetic development of plants as well as plant community shifts. At the onset of secondary succession, pool of soil NO3-N and soil total P was high probably because burning caused flushes of minerals originating from the burnt plant materials. Pool of soil NO3-N and soil total P decreased with increasing stand age during the succession. Leaf-litter N:P ratios of dominant species significantly increased with increasing stand age suggesting disproportionately greater P deficiency than N deficiency in the later successional phase. It is suggested that tree species shifted to those of greater P-use efficiency during succession in response to decreasing soil P availability. We conclude that the interaction of altitude with the reduction of soil N and P availability was related to the altitudinal split of plant communities in the later phase, while pioneer communities were wide-ranging across altitudes reflecting richer soil nutrients.